Monthly Archives: March 2013

“Words, words, words”: But what else are you reading?

This week we looked at both alternate modes of presenting scholarship (with a few short films) and with Mark Sample’s blog post on the essay; and then considered some work using techniques of “media visualization” to apply digital tools to non-linguistic materials.

Many of this week’s posts end up looking towards many of the questions next week’s readings will address more explicitly.

Also, prepare from an inscursion moving in the opposite direction when, this coming week, the good folks to our East comment on our blogs.

  • Joe finds in Manovich’s visualizations of movemment something unique. These composite images, which capture (or visualize or perhaps simply smear) the motion of a shot in a film within a single image, “have the potential,” Joe writes, “to tell us something we did not know, and to beg further questions, rather than, as Manovich often freely admits, verify claims. The image apprehends something itself of the shot beyond the algorithm used to generate it.” Though, in a comment Peter K asks Joe what his own post seems to be asking more broadly: what exactly are these new questions?
  • Jesse reflects on Ramsay’s reflections on live-coding, that is, on something like live-commentary (the critic as announcer?)1, and on “Critical Code Studies.” Jesse suggests that CCS seems interested in “the pre-output process rather than the final product,” which, you’ll no doubt recall, echoes Kirschenbaum’s own attitude to “screen essentialism.” More black boxes; more peering inside.
  • Jordan begins by responding to Andrew Sorensen’s livecoding (that Stephen Ramsay discusses), before adapting the demands of the TOLAP manifesto to the current state of academia (by way of Alan Liu, of whom–and from whom–more anon). He ends with a wonderfully synthetic summing up: “Manovich’s work on visualization, Moretti’s graphs, maps, and trees, McGann’s acts of deformance, and Wilkens’ cartography all adopt some aspect of data-based investigation. These are, I’m becoming more and more convinced, valuable in their own right. However, perhaps they are each barking up, if not the wrong tree, then not quite the right one. The live coders show us what our lesson from STEM ought to be: down with obscurantism.”
  • In a bravura bit of hands on work, Peter D walks us through a Manovich style visualization of 2001: A Space Odyssey, using freely available tools to first reduce a film to a series of stills and then uses ImageJ to create a Manovich style montage.2
  • Peter K, meanwhile, suggests that there is something formalist, or even show-and-tell-y, about some of the work we read this week—that it lacks sufficient argument (about which claim I point you to this post from Tom Scheindfeldt) and is insufficiently attentive to questions of politics, ideology, and so on (about which claim, I point you to next week, in the syllabus). One might ask of Peter D’s montage of 2001, precisely, what is your argument?
  • Chris’s post wonders whether “the media visualization techniques that Manovich is interested in also help ‘globalize’ the humanities in new ways”? This question opens onto a larger discussion about scholarship and its public(s), as well as questions of the so-called “digital divide.” And, indeed, these very questions will be returning next week.
  1. Which raises the delightful counter-proposition of the announcer as a sort of hermeneut of athletics. One thinks of those writers, like Marianne Moore, who has been obsessed by sports. []
  2. Something I wish we had discussed at greater length is the odd status these montage images have as texts to be read; they adapt the almost invisible convention of left-to-right, top-to-bottom reading from print, in the way that they preserve the film’s order… There is something to say about this, I think. []

Wait… they don’t love you like I love you: Reading Maps

  • EM, who last time discovered something insipid in Moretti’s titular graphs and trees, highlights Moretti’s preference for geometry over geography in his discussion of maps (invoking, by way of contrast I imagine, Auden’s praise of an actual landscape1 ).
  • Matt Wilkens’s essay on mapping inspires in Jordan a reverie about a two-track English department (a “traditional” track, and a data-driven track); Jordan quickly stops day-dreaming though, in order to look more closely at the differences in the spatial approach offered by Moretti and Wilkens. That difference (and the broader difference about the “great unread” of which distant reading promises some glimpse), for Jordan, has a political/critical edge: “Wilkens’ question has less to do with a hunch about the nature of the texts and more to do with the conviction that these other texts that lie outside the purview of canonization are indeed worth investigation.”.
  • An ambivalence motivates Staci’s response to maps, at once interested and skeptical. She asks what relation these maps have to older literary maps—like the map of Yoknapatawpha County added by Faulkner to Absalom, Absalom!. Staci too notes that there is actually a rather broad diversity of method parading under the banner of “mapping” (admittedly, a banner I have created): “What Moretti does in the Maps section of Graphs, Maps, Trees seems worlds apart from what Matthew Wilkens does in ‘Canons, Close Reading, and the Evolution of Method’ in which he plots the geographical locations mentioned in 40ish novels of 1851, 1852, and 1874.” So, is mapping a “method” at all? Or is there, at best, a family resemblance between these various interests in space.
  • Updated:Adam entertains Jordan’s fantasy of a split English department, but sees no reason to be either frightened by the proposition, or to necessarily change what he is doing: “even those uninterested or unschooled in the DH can benefit from the results of distant reading.” Let, as they say, a thousand flowers bloom?
  1. Here is Auden reading the poem. It is wonderful. []